Cows provide udderly delightful diversion

Much of my time last week was occupied by two events: a national political convention and the county fair. One was filled with turkeys, chickens, peacocks, swine and asses, and the other was conducted right here in Johnson County.

I try my best not to allow politics to trespass too often on the lawn of my mental landscape. After just a little bit, I usually wind up yelling like an old grump at the frustration, anger and disappointment, shouting, “Hey! Get out of my yard!” However, it was hard to avoid all the convention hoopla last week, so I was glad when the Johnson Country fair came to my rescue.

On one of the days my wife and I did a stint at the Master Gardener booth. This gave me the opportunity to realize just how much I don’t know about gardening as well as one more reason to thank Master Gardeners Becky and Jerry who were there to provide the actual horticultural knowledge. We also managed to catch up with several people from our pasts who were strolling through Fitzpatrick Hall as they enjoyed the fair.

Another day Becky and I volunteered to read a book to some kids. We signed up through the Johnson County Extension Office’s Read, Taste, and Touch program. RT2 is a book club for preschoolers and their parents.

The program’s primary purpose is to “promote reading, good nutrition and agricultural awareness among preschool and young-elementary-aged children.” As former educators we especially like how parental involvement is a critical component of the program.

“Cows to the Rescue” by John Himmelman is the book we were assigned to read. Himmelman is the author of more than 60 books for children including “Chickens to the Rescue” and “Pigs to the Rescue.”

The plot of the book involves various characters who get into a fix and need help. On one page the farmer’s car won’t start on the morning of the county fair. Turning the page (spoiler alert!) we read “Cows to the Rescue!” This happens a number of times through the story. Becky and I checked the book out of the Trafalgar library and took it home to make some lesson plans.

Right off it was determined that Becky would be the reader and I would be a cow. We don’t have a cow suit (imagine that), so I dressed in brown, made a cow mask and wore a cow bell around my neck.

We arrived at the extension office on Tuesday morning at 9:30 where we welcomed our first group of 15 3- and 4-year-olds. They were antsy sitting there on the colorful mat, but when Miss Becky started reading and showing the illustrations, and Cow Norman clanged his bell while encouraging everyone to yell “Cows to the Rescue!,” they paid attention.

After the story each child colored a jigsaw puzzle of a cow and had a snack of meatballs. Then it was time to grab a spot on the rope and walk to the cattle barns to see some real cows.

We passed through a couple of barns on our way. At one point, a little girl pointed at a goat and said, “There’s a cow.” Obviously, for some it was the first time they had seen farm animals up close.

Our second session was attended by the same number of children and included their parents. Once again Miss Becky read while Cow Norman clanged the bell and yelled “Cows to the Rescue!”

It was a good and hopeful thing seeing parents working with and guiding their little ones. No government program ever conceived can compete with family involvement.

I’m glad the Johnson County fair offered me a small chance to forget about political insanity for a while. It helped me through last week’s craziness with the elephants. But what about this week’s craziness with the donkeys? Maybe what I need are for some cows to rescue me.